From shogakai to sake: a week in the life of an MA student

As teaching finishes for our MA students and they begin the preparation of their final research projects, students took part in two trips this month – one to the Kyōsai exhibition at the Royal Academy, and the other to the Dojima Sake Brewery at Fordham Abbey.

Fieldtrip to Kyōsai Exhibition (24 May 2022)

Towards the end of this year’s MA in Interdisciplinary Japanese Studies, our cohort visited the exhibition Kyōsai: Israel Goldman Collection at the Royal Academy  in London (on display until 19 June 2022). Dr Sadamura Koto (Curator of the exhibition and Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow) was unfortunately unavailable that day, so we were guided by Dr Eugenia Bogdanova-Kummer (Course Director and Lecturer in Japanese Arts, Cultures and Heritage), Dr Matsuba Ryoko (Lecturer in Japanese Digital Arts and Humanities), and Professor Nicole Rousmaniere (Sainsbury Institute Founding Director and the current Research Director).

Students presented on their favourite artworks during the visit to the exhibition.

I am intrigued by Kyōsai’s rather eccentric life. Whilst he was professionally trained by Utagawa Kuniyoshi and the prestigious Kanō School, he changed his style later, becoming more comic and satirical, and having an uninhibited style at a time when Japan was experiencing a rapid and dramatic change through the Tokugawa shogunate to the Meiji Restoration. His themes include ghosts, demons, courtesans, animal circus, and frog battles amongst others. There were some humorous (and even rude) paintings as well. He also taught painting to some Westerners such as the British architect, Josiah Conder. It was Conder who held his master Kyōsai’s hand at his death bed. Kyōsai’s exceptional talent, along with his honest and exuberant character and sense of humour, must have touched people universally at a time when most artists were following their masters and schools.

Natsue, author of this report, gave a presentation on her favourite artwork, the shogakai.

What I especially enjoyed that day was our group’s ‘show-and-tell’ session. All of us including our tutors, selected their own favourite Kyōsai artwork and talked about it to the group. Among Kyōsai’s wide genre of traditional to free-styled improvised paintings, I selected one with a crow on a branch, and the other, the shogakai (calligraphy and drawing party, with a lot of sake drinking. This piece was also Dr Bogdanova-Kummer’s choice). Whilst the crow in black ink in simple brushwork showed tranquillity, the bustling shogakai painting with no focal point was completely opposite, being both lively and chaotic. I felt as if I could see people’s movement and hear excited voices.

It was also touching to hear Professor Rousmaniere’s introductory talk about her years of teaching and collaboration with Drs Matsuba and Sadamura in Japanese Art History which is now bearing fruit.

Natsue Hayward

MA Interdisciplinary Japanese Studies, UEA

Dojima Brewery Visit (27 May 2022)

On 27 May 2022, SISJAC’s Interdisciplinary Japanese Studies students visited the Dojima Sake Brewery at Fordham Abbey.

After taking tea in the restaurant garden, we were given a tour of the brewing facilities by Kumiko, the daughter of the brew master, Yoshihide Hashimoto. Kumiko’s extensive knowledge of sake brewing was apparent as she talked through the meticulous process. From sourcing the rice and koji to using Fordham’s own well water, Dojima’s sake is a unique but authentic combination of Japanese tradition and the English environment. 

Following the tour, Kumiko hosted a sake tasting for us. We were able to taste Dojima Junmai sake as well as two vintages of Dojima’s unique Cambridge sake. During this time, we were able to watch a video of the brew master. Between Kumiko’s tour and Hashimoto’s video, we learned about the long history of sake brewing and Dojima’s unique position as a bridge between Japan’s traditional alcohol and England’s temperate climate.

Finally, our time at Dojiima ended with a meal and tour of the Japanese gardens. Made with Dojima’s own sake kasu, a by-product of sake brewing, the meal was well balanced and delicious! Ending with the tour of the gardens reminded us of the rich relationship between Japan and England. From the homegrown produce to the Japanese shrine, experiencing Dojima’s gardens was a wonderful way to end our time at the sake brewery.

Amanda McGuire

Postgraduate Researcher, UEA